I Dream of Eroica

by Kadorienne
Illustrated by You Igor

 

The Major crouched behind the stack of crates as KGB bullets whizzed past, the adrenalin racing through his bloodstream, his Magnum poised and ready. The instant there was a pause in the barrage, he lunged out and emptied a few rounds at the Russian's hiding place before swiftly taking cover once more.

He couldn't hold back a savage grin. If only every workday could be as much fun as this one.

"Give up your useless pursuit, Iron Klaus!" Mischa's voice accompanied another volley of shots. "You will never stop us from getting that microfilm out of your decadent capitalist country!"

Klaus reflected that he should probably find out who had invented microfilm, and light a candle for the man if he was dead. His life wouldn't be nearly as exciting without the stuff. It might as well have been made from bits of the True Cross or the Golden Fleece, the way people in his line of work carried on about every piece of it.

"You might as well just hand it over to me now," the Major taunted. "Along with your weapon."

"Hah! You Germans always-" Mischa's abruptly trailed off in an undignified yelp.

"What's the matter? Are you all right?" Klaus demanded anxiously. If Mischa were hurt, who would he play with? The KGB didn't have anyone else who could possibly offer Klaus any challenge.

Several pungent Russian curses answered before Mischa shouted, "However you did this, western dog, I will learn the secret and our scientists will duplicate it! Every one of our agents will have a device like yours!"

"Device?" Was this a trick intended to make him emerge from cover? Or... a horrible suspicion dawned. He took a very cautious peek out from behind the crates.

Mischa was half concealed behind a large pillar, scowling down at the weapon in his hand. A weapon which was made of garish red plastic, and squirted water when he experimentally pressed the trigger.

The Major retreated to his shelter. "Eroica!" he yelled.

Instantly Eroica appeared, lounging on his side odalisque-style in mid-air as was his wont. Today's filmy harem pants were lavender, and the satin half-vest was a complementary purple, as were the gems in his jangling gold jewelry. "Yes, Master?" he cooed sweetly.

"You did that to Mischa's gun!" he accused.

"Of course, Master! He is very careless with his bullets, one of them might have hit you!"

"I should've left that verdammter bottle on the beach," the Major grumbled.

Eroica laughed. "Oh, you do not mean that, Master," he chided, floating closer and planting a kiss on the Major's cheek. Klaus ignored this, as he could only yell about one thing at a time.

"Eroica, I did not spend ten years training in weapons and hand-to-hand combat so that a genie could protect me from my enemies. Now give him his gun back this instant!"

The genie pouted. "Oh, if you insist, Master." He straightened to sit cross-legged a few feet above the floor, folded his arms before him, and gave his head a quick bob before resting his chin sulkily on his fist with a put-upon sigh. "You are more difficult to please than any master I have ever had."

"Sorry about that," the Major muttered absently, readying his Magnum again as Mischa began firing bullets at him again. "The polar bear isn't going to remember this, is he?"

"Of course not, Master. Really, you have no faith in me at all." Eroica bobbed his head again and vanished in a puff of smoke and pique.

"You are no match for me, Iron Klaus!" Mischa's voice sounded farther away now, but the volley of bullets continued. Klaus cursed - in Russian, as he liked to keep his profanity in practice in every language. When he heard the door out of the warehouse creak open, he gave chase, reaching the door just in time to glimpse Mischa's smirking face through the window of a van as it skidded past him, tires squealing.

The Major hurried back inside. There was a phone somewhere inside, he knew. He would notify the alphabets to blockade the road and stop Mischa before he reached the border.

As he ran past the pillar Mischa had been hiding behind, a glint on the floor caught his eye. He stopped and snatched it up. It was the microfilm.

The Major scrutinized it with narrowed eyes before tucking it securely in his pocket.

Strictly speaking, it wasn't fair, but some genie favors he just couldn't send back.

"I need some coffee," the Major muttered, not looking up from his desk. He said it aloud from habit, even though his alphabet had gone home long ago; none of them were there to mix some Nescafé and hurry to press it into his hand.

Which was why the Major jumped, spilling some of the hot liquid onto the mound of papers on his desk, when a brimful cup floated into his hand.

"Eroica, don't do that without warning me!" he complained, taking a gulp of the coffee before mopping up the spill with his handkerchief.

Eroica materialized leaning over the Major solicitously. Tonight's outfit was the usual half-vest and filmy pants, turquoise this time, leaving his chest scandalously bare and providing only token covering for his legs. "Master, it is nearly ten o'clock! Cannot your alphabet do this for you?"

"No." Klaus put a fresh cigarette in his mouth. His genie folded his arms and bobbed his head and the cigarette ignited as Klaus was reaching for his lighter. Klaus coughed once as the unexpected smoke went down the wrong way, but adapted quickly. "I'm the only one who has contacts at this level."

"But it is so late! Let me at least get you some dinner."

"No!" The last time Klaus had allowed this, Eroica had conjured an elaborate gourmet feast that could easily have hardened the arteries of the entire alphabet, right there in his spartan office. "I had A bring me sandwiches before I sent him home."

"Sandwiches? When I could give you-"

"I'm not hungry," Klaus interrupted firmly.

"But you are tired, Master," the genie cooed, extending a hand to smooth Klaus's hair back from his forehead. The Major grumpily batted his hand away. "You need your rest!"

"No, I need this Soviet code machine. The mole who was going to get it for us was transferred. I was thinking about blackmailing this man," the Major thumped a dossier, "but I'm suspicious; I think his alleged drug problem is a ruse to make us think we can blackmail him."

"What is this 'code machine'?" the genie asked.

"It...." The Major started to rub his eyes, but quickly stopped; showing any sign of fatigue or discomfort in front of his genie was sure to result in excessive concern. He sat up straight. "It looks like a typewriter, but they use it to create coded messages. If we had one, we could decipher their code and read their messages."

Eroica put his hands on his hips. "You are wasting me! Any mortal man could make you Nescafé. Why did you not ask me for this?" He held his arms out and bobbed his head, and a code machine appeared in his grasp.

The Major stared at it, feeling as if the breath had been knocked out of him. As Eroica placed it on his desk, Klaus struggled with himself. He didn't want to depend on Eroica's magic to do his job for him, and yet, what this machine could mean for NATO....

Looking smug, the genie moved behind him and started massaging his shoulders. "Now you will come home, won't you, Master? You must be exhausted."

The Major shrugged off the soothing hands. "Eroica, I don't think...."

The door opened and the Chief strolled in with a couple of folders. "Major, I just received word that – You got it!" He stared at the code machine, thunderstruck.

So much for ordering Eroica to send the contraption back.

"How did you do it so quickly?" the Chief asked, patting the machine as if to make certain it was real.

"Well, ehm...." Klaus was of course a trained liar, but he could have used a minute to think. Half a minute. Ten seconds.

"I stole it for him," Eroica's voice said behind him.

Horrified, Klaus whipped his head around. The genie knew he was supposed to disappear if someone else came in! Klaus would never be able to explain why he had a shamelessly beautiful man wearing a harem outfit in his office after hours.

But Eroica was now wearing a skintight burglary catsuit, with no jewelry at all. Even his hair was now clipped short.

"You might say that sort of work is my specialty," Eroica went on with a slight smile.

"I had no idea you had that sort of contacts, Eberbach," the Chief said. To Klaus's further irritation, he sounded impressed rather than disapproving.

"Part of the job." Klaus tried to sound as if hiring professional thieves was a routine part of his life. "I'll take this to Cryptography."

"You should lock it in the inner office. Just a minute and I'll get you the key."

"No need," Eroica offered sweetly. "I can pick the lock for him."

The Chief blinked. "Oh, of course. Can we count on your services again, Mr...."

"He owed me one favor," the Major cut in before Eroica could get himself on the NATO payroll. That was all he needed. "But we'll see what we can work out." He shot Eroica a significant look to keep him quiet. He'd better get him out of the Chief's presence, too, and fast. He stood and picked up the code machine. "Come with me and we'll see what you can do with that lock."

When they were out of the Chief's range, Klaus hissed, "What are you doing in that ridiculous outfit?"

"You told me to wear modern clothes if other mortals ever saw me."

"Yes, but not that obscene tight...." Words failed him.

Eroica preened. "I thought it was rather becoming. Except for the dreary haircuts men today wear. Two thousand years ago, men had far more style." He bobbed his head, not breaking his stride, and the long golden curls were back.

Klaus shifted his grip on the code machine to open the door to the Cryptography office. "Why didn't you conjure up a suit instead?"

Now Eroica looked genuinely puzzled. "Is this not what thieves wear in the modern world?"

"You saw a thief wearing an outfit like that on television."

"Why, yes, Master!"

"I never should have shown you how the idiot box works."

"Oh, but it is more fun than a flying carpet!" He folded his arms and bobbed his head, and the inner door unlocked itself and opened. The Major stowed the code machine and then locked the room back up. "Now will you come home and go to bed, Master?"

"Yes. And you will get into your bottle," he added sharply.

"Master!" the genie protested, but in this matter, as always, his master stood firm.

"In the bottle," he repeated firmly.

"Yes, Master," Eroica answered with resignation, and turned to a puff of turquoise smoke.

Mortals could be so unreasonable.

The Major thought it was a waste of time for the Kunstmuseum to want to borrow some of his family's paintings, but loaning them was simply proper behavior for a family of the Eberbach's standing. Consequently, he left the office in the middle of the day with Z to help him pack the blasted things up. Family heirlooms couldn't be entrusted to just anyone.

When they reached the Schloss, they were already proceeding into the gallery when the butler appeared, his face a study in anxiety. Klaus let Z go on in as he went to learn what the problem was.

"Ehm, sir," Conrad almost stammered, "Eroica decided to... improve the gallery."

These words released more adrenaline than the sight of a Russian pointing a gun at him. Conrad was the only other person who knew about Eroica; his loyalty was unquestioned, and there was in any case no way to conceal it from him.

The Major hurried to the door of the gallery in time to see a shell-shocked Z emerge.

The damned genie was going to addle what few wits his youngest agent had. "Sit down," the Major ordered, pointing to the nearest chair. "Conrad, get him some water. No, brandy." Leaving Z to Conrad's care, Klaus charged into the gallery.

And stopped just inside. Despite Conrad's warning, he hadn't been at all prepared. Right in front of him was Michaelangelo's David. The gallery was now an incredibly vast room. The entire Schloss could have fit into it at least twice. Beyond the David was Rodin's Thinker, the Mona Lisa, and dozens of other statues and paintings Klaus couldn't possibly have named, but he knew they were classics; he had seen them on postcards and stuff.

For the next three minutes he gave a masterful display of polylingual obscenity at high volume. When he stopped to gasp for breath, his chest tight (the genie was going to bring on his guaranteed eventual heart attack early), his genie was standing before him, in a costume the color of his robin's-egg eyes, looking puzzled.

"But... does your new collection not please you, Master?" Eroica asked, sounding genuinely surprised.

Klaus's response was a roar of fury. His arm shot out to seize Eroica, but the genie sensibly dematerialized and the Major was left gripping thin air. When his rage-clouded vision cleared, Eroica was perched on the David's shoulder, looking down at him worriedly.

"If you were human for just five minutes, I'd show you how much this pleases me," Klaus yelled up at him.

"Oh, very well." Eroica folded his arms and bobbed his head. An instant later the Eberbach collection was back, the Man In Purple presiding over it as he had for centuries. It was the first time Klaus had ever been happy to see the wretched thing, though the thousandth that he had wished his ancestor had had more seemly taste in clothing. Purple pumpkin pants! What had Tyrian been thinking?

"Keep it this way," Klaus growled, and stalked out. Z was still sitting down, dabbing at his face with a damp handkerchief. There was nothing for it but to act as if everything were normal, even though nothing had been normal since the day Klaus had found that bottle. "On your feet, Z," he barked, and the still dazed agent obeyed and followed him into the gallery as though it were a dungeon. When he saw the restored interior, he made a sort of gurgling noise, which the Major ignored.

Not so easily ignored was the well-dressed gentleman who was examining The Man In Purple with an appraising air. At least the genie was now wearing a tailored grey suit. And gold-wire-rimmed glasses, as if that would make his riotous hair and too-pretty face less flashy.

"I am Dorian Red, from the museum," Eroica explained to Z, who had stopped goggling at the gallery to goggle at Eroica. "I shall be travelling with the paintings to keep an eye on them."

Well, at least that would keep the genie out from underfoot for a couple of days.

Z surreptitiously straightened his tie and smoothed his hair. "Oh, that's excellent. I'm glad these great works will be in such capable hands."

Klaus grimaced at Z's babbling. The silly boy would flirt with anything goodlooking. "Z! Get over here and help me get this one down." The painting in question was six feet across.

"Yes, sir, sorry, sir." Z leapt to obey. When the canvas was down, Eroica murmured behind them, "You must be so strong."

Klaus turned, but before he could answer, he realized that Eroica was speaking to Z. And smiling at him. And looking him over the same way he had looked over the stupid painting.

Z smiled back hopefully. "I do have to keep in shape, what with being in the Army and all-"

"Go back to the office, Z," the Major cut in. "'Mr. Red' and I will finish with the paintings."

"Yes, sir," Z said, disappointed. He looked at Eroica. "Perhaps we'll see each other when the paintings-"

"Now, Z," the Major snapped. Chastened, the boy left, with a lingering look at Eroica. Which the nuisance of a genie did nothing to discourage, holding Z's gaze and all but fluttering his lashes.

As soon as the door was shut, Klaus ordered, "Stay away from that decent German boy!"

"Master!" The genie's delight was unholy. "You are jealous!"

"I am not," the Major grumbled.

As usual, his genie paid him no heed. "You know you are the only man for me, Master," he cooed, flinging his arms around Klaus's neck.

Klaus tried to shove Eroica away. "Verdammt! I have to pack up these paintings!"

Eroica bobbed his head, and the designated paintings vanished from the walls. "Where-" Klaus began, but Eroica assured him, "They are all safely packed in the crate outside, Master, just waiting for the truck to pick them up. Oh, you are so handsome when you are jealous!"

"Harrumph."

"You are not to turn Fraulein Rüdlinger into a toad."

"Yes, Master."

"You are not to send her to any faraway countries."

"Yes, Master."

"You are not to inflict a contagious, temporarily disfiguring disease on her."

"Yes, Master."

"You are not to place a glamour on her that makes her believe me to be so ugly that even an eventual title and the Eberbach fortune cannot compensate for it."

"Yes, Master."

"You are not to create an illusion that will make her appear hideous to all the men who see her, leaving her to wonder why they are not responding normally to her flirting."

"Yes, Master." The genie's glumness lifted somewhat as he was reminded of how he had shooed Konstanze Hirsch away from his master. The shameless flirt had never been the same after that ball, and had shortly thereafter married a shy intellectual who had been hopelessly worshipping the popular beauty from afar for years. All in all, Eroica considered that he had done everyone concerned a favor.

Well, except for the senior Eberbach. Who had now found another prospective baby-machine to inflict on his son. And his dear master was so dutiful that he was escorting the tramp as ordered. Even though his master was firm that he had no intention of marrying any of the fertile wenches his father threw at his head, Eroica preferred not to have his master looked over like a stud animal by Germany's upper crust. After two thousand years trapped in that bottle, Eroica had no intention of sharing his rescuer. Major Eberbach was his!

Having extracted promises from his genie on every contingency he could imagine, the Major donned his tuxedo and showed up at the drearily formal gathering as his father had ordered. How anybody could endure such tedium was beyond him. He wondered if he could get through the evening without having to dance.

When he arrived, Herr Rüdlinger was making apologies to the senior Eberbach. “I had no idea Mieke could be so flighty. I really don’t know what the younger generation is coming to.”

Whatever these gloomy words portended, they were likely to be good news for Klaus. His spirits rose a bit.

His father glanced over and saw him. “Ehm, Klaus. I am afraid that Fraulein Rüdlinger was unable to attend.”

“Then I suppose there’s no point in my staying here,” Klaus replied, trying to sound disappointed.

“On the contrary!” his father said quickly. “I have been talking to a most charming young lady I’m certain you’ll be delighted to meet.”

His father was of course certain of nothing of the sort. But when Klaus reluctantly turned to acknowledge the girl his father was gesturing to, instead of resignation he felt a combination of relief and shock.

“Fraulein Doria Roth, may I present my son, Klaus von dem Eberbach?”

Where Eroica came up with his human names Klaus had no idea. And despite the fact that “Doria Roth” was quite obviously female – her childbearing hips and ample bosom no doubt had every aspiring grandparent in the room drooling – the sparkling sky-colored eyes and abundant golden hair were unchanged and unmistakable, the finely drawn features more delicate now but nonetheless the same. Had Eroica been a mortal, Klaus would have assumed “Doria” was his sister.

“Charmed,” Klaus said automatically, taking Doria’s hand gingerly. He couldn’t help noticing how much smaller the hand was now. Some men liked holding dainty little hands, he supposed. Klaus didn’t.

“I’m sure Fraulein Roth would like to dance, Klaus,” his father spoke up. Klaus wondered if some parents were more subtle.

Doria’s face – Doria’s narrow, painted, female face – lit up. “Oh, I would be delighted!”

At least dancing gave him a chance to ask what he couldn’t in front of his father. “I didn’t know you could do this,” he muttered once they were safely on the dance floor.

“Assume a female shape? I can assume any shape you would like, Master!” Speculation lit the genie’s eyes. “Is there some form you would find especially pleasing?”

“No!” Klaus shuddered to imagine the parade of movie stars Eroica would transform into if he thought it would.... “Wait. I thought you were male. That is....” If the genie could metamorphize at will, was he really male? Was he really anything?

“Genies can change shape, but we each have a true form. My true form is the one you have always seen me in.” Eroica paused, then continued reluctantly, “But if you prefer me as a female....”

“No! Ehm, but stay like this for the evening. It’ll keep my father off my back for a while. You must have told my father you’re a countess who wants six children.”

“Precisely, Master!”

Klaus had been joking. He should have known better.

“So you prefer me as a male, Master?” The genie’s flirting tone sounded different with a female voice, even though it was a fairly low contralto.

Klaus allowed several measures of the music to pass before he answered. “I don’t feel comfortable around women,” he said at last. To forestall further discussion along these lines, he abruptly asked, “What did you do to Fraulein Rüdlinger?”

The wide-eyed-innocence look was even more melodramatic when Eroica assumed it with a female face. “I did nothing to her, Master!”

“Then why isn’t she here?”

“She has eloped with her chauffeur, Master.”

Klaus was trying not to look at his dancing partner too much, but the smugness was audible. “You put a love spell on her,” he said, resigned. He would have to add that to his list of things to order his genie not to do to prospective Frau Eberbachs.

“I did nothing of the kind, Master. She has been in love with her chauffeur for years. A very handsome young man, though of course not nearly so handsome as you, darling Master. But they could not marry because he did not have a penny to his name.”

“Until his Uncle Norbert died suddenly this afternoon and left him two million marks that nobody knew he had,” Klaus supplied.

“Master! I would not kill anyone.” The lilting voice was reproachful. “It so happens that the chauffeur has been writing novels for years. Today, a publisher finally accepted one of them, and is so confident that it will be a bestseller that the chauffeur was given a generous advance!”

“What a coincidence."

Eroica laughed softly. "It was well worth it to get to dance with you, Master." He - she - leaned her head against Klaus's shoulder. Instinctively he recoiled, as much as the steps of the waltz would allow.

The genie straightened and looked at Klaus curiously. Eroica was accustomed to Klaus's consistent discouragement of his overtures, but this reflexive bristling was something new. "You really do not like me as a girl, do you, Master?"

"'S creeping me out," he muttered.

Eroica bobbed his head and was a man again, back to his true form, and to his usual costume (more heavily jeweled than usual, as the occasion was fancy dress).

Klaus looked around in panic, but his genie reassured him swiftly. "Everyone else here is still seeing me as a woman, Master, do not worry."

It had to be true, as no one was staring at them. Klaus relaxed (as much as he ever did), though when he briefly met his father's approving gaze he had to look away.

Eroica contentedly rested his head on Klaus's shoulder again. Klaus decided to shut up and cope.

Klaus parked his Benz in front of the grandest mansion he had ever had the misfortune to lay eyes upon. Getting out, he gave the row of Rolls Royces - eight of them, all in different colors - a withering look before ascending the stairs and ringing the doorbell.

The servant who answered the door impressed him even less than the cars had. Bad enough to have a female butler... a young, curvaceous female butler... but surely the owner of this mansion could have afforded more than a few inches of cloth for her livery.

He ignored the conspicuously new, conspicuously expensive furniture as he was escorted inside and from there to the landscaped backyard with its Olympic sized swimming pool, full of shapely females of every imaginable variety wearing postage stamp-bikinis.

The proprietor was lounging on a deck chair as a dazzling blonde rubbed suntan oil into his skin and a stunning Japanese girl held a daiquiri for him to sip.

Klaus regarded the scene for a moment before remarking, "And to think that all I ever asked him for was cigarettes and Nescafe."

Lawrence sat up, startled, and regained his composure at once. "Iron Klaus! My old companion in arms! Esperanza, a drink for my bosom friend!"

Already the sight of female beauty was becoming boring. And would have even had Klaus been an enthusiast of female beauty. There was simply too much of it around. An exquisite young Hispanic woman in two scraps of scarlet fabric offered him a beer. It was a German brand, so he accepted it and took a token sip.

"No hard feelings, I hope?" Lawrence offered an ingratiating, only slightly oily smile.

Klaus smiled back. Lawrence lacked the discernment to recognize it for the danger signal it was. "Why should there be? All you did was steal a 2,000-year-old antique bottle containing a powerful genie from me after circumstance forced me to take you into my confidence." He looked around. "This place is... very you."

"Why, thank you!" Lawrence beamed. "This just goes to show what a man with imagination can do with a genie."

"Too bad I have no imagination," Klaus answered gravely. "May I see him?"

Lawrence shot him what was probably meant to be a shrewd look. "You aren't going to try to steal him back, are you? I have his bottle locked away safely."

"I am aware of that. I only wish to speak to him."

"I don't see why." However, with a shrug Lawrence clapped his hands. "Eroica!"

A puff of golden smoke appeared and resolved itself into Eroica in a golden harem outfit. He saw Klaus at once and gazed at him wistfully. "Hello, former master."

Klaus had never seen Eroica look tired before. Not haggard or exhausted, but tired, yes. "And how is my comrade in arms treating you?" he asked casually.

Eroica hesitated before saying ruefully, "I have never worked so hard in all my life."

Lawrence, unconcerned, was... paying attention to yet another female. A redhead. Good God, had the wanna-be James Bond just ordered one of every sort? Like he was collecting baseball cards?

Klaus looked back to Eroica, holding his gaze. "I haven't forgotten how many times you came to my rescue."

The Major's tone was casual, but Eroica understood. His face lit up with hope. Klaus quickly shook his head, just once, and Eroica quelled his joy. "That is very kind of you, former master," he replied, trying not to sound too happy.

"That's enough, Eroica," Lawrence drawled. "Back in your bottle."

"But Master! I haven't been out of it all day!"

"Back in your bottle," Lawrence repeated. The Major wanted to punch him. Didn't he understand that a genie wasn't just a magical toy?

As Eroica disappeared in his usual puff of smoke, Klaus turned to go, handing his nearly-full beer to the nearest female (this one appeared to hail from the subcontinent). "Leaving so soon, Major?"

"I'll see you again soon, I'm sure." Klaus paused at the door. "Enjoy your mansion."

While it lasted.

Coincidentally, Klaus just happened to be at SIS headquarters the day Lawrence's superiors called him on the carpet. And so was able to offer succor to his comrade in arms.

"You've got to help me, Iron Klaus!" Lawrence was clutching his arm feverishly. They were alone in the office, but Lawrence kept giving the door fearful glances. "You wouldn't let an old friend like me hang, would you?"

"They still hang people in this country?" Klaus pried Lawrence's hands off his arm.

"I was speaking figuratively, old chap. But you're Iron Klaus! You have influence, favors owed you! You can help me!"

The Major remained unruffled. He took out a cigarette and lit it in a leisurely fashion. "Possibly, but you'll have to explain. Help you with what?"

"My superiors! They found out about my mansion! I have no idea how, but they did!"

"I wonder how."

"And now they think that I'm selling secrets to the Russians for all this money! You know that isn't true, Major!"

"Of course I do. You would never do that."

"I can't tell Her Majesty's Government that a genie conjured it all up for me!"

"I don't see why not. I thought the English were proud of their tradition of eccentricity."

Lawrence gave a despairing groan. "Inland Revenue is dismally out of touch with our traditions. And they know about my mansion too."

"Gracious." The Major did not seem surprised by this information.

The English agent grasped his arm again. "You'll help me, won't you, Iron Klaus? After all we've been through together?"

Klaus failed to see how two routine and utterly non-life-threatening missions qualified as "all we've been through together", but his expression became thoughtful. After considering for a moment, he said slowly, "I think perhaps I could. But..."

"Anything, old chum, anything!"

"Well, I would require Eroica's powers to get you out of this. You would have to return him to me."

Lawrence stared, crestfallen. Footsteps in the hall made him pale and he leapt for the safe under his desk. Even when the footsteps passed by without stopping, he did not pause in twirling the dial with shaking hands. He clutched the bottle for a moment, looking at it wistfully, before thrusting it into the Major's hands.

"Here he is! Now please, keep your promise!"

Klaus uncorked the bottle. "Eroica, come out of there," he ordered cheerfully.

A puff of smoke emerged and turned into Eroica, wearing an emerald green ensemble. When he saw his bottle in the Major's hands, he gave a cry of joy and flung his arms around Klaus's neck. "Master!"

Klaus tolerated the embrace grouchily. "Eroica, your ex-master there is in trouble, and I need your help to get him out of it."

The genie stepped away from him, his face falling. "Yes, Master," he said unhappily.

"His superiors and the tax collectors have found out about the things you conjured up for him. He's going to get in big trouble for having them unless you destroy the evidence."

A slow smile began to creep across the genie's pretty face. "At once, Master." He crossed his arms and bobbed his head.

"It's all gone?" Klaus asked. "The mansion, the cars, the girls?" Lawrence groaned, collapsing into the nearest chair.

"Yes, Master. And the yacht, and the summer home in Antibes, and-"

"Mein Gott. Never mind the list, just so it's all gone."

"But my superiors have already seen it!" New footsteps outside made Lawrence frantic once more. "And they'll be here any moment! You said you had the influence to get me off the hook! You promised!"

Klaus looked at his genie. "Eroica?"

Once more Eroica folded his arms and bobbed his head. A second later, Lawrence's two immediate superiors strolled in. Eroica slipped back into his bottle just in time. Lawrence looked as if he wouldn't have minded following.

"Excellent work on that job in Berlin, old chap," one of them told Lawrence jovially.

"Be at my office for briefing on your next mission. Tennish. You're well on your way to getting a double-O!" the other said, clapping him on the back before they left.

Lawrence stared after them, mouth open. Klaus wondered if CPR was the proper response to apoplexy.

Eroica reappeared, grinning widely. The Major reminded him, "If there are any written records about Agent Lawrence's unaccountable wealth, you'll have to erase them."

"I have already done so, Master. Oh, it is so good to be out of the bottle!" Eroica said happily, trying to plaster himself against Klaus once more. Scowling, Klaus turned away so that the genie was only able to get at his side, but did not shove him away.

Lawrence found his voice. "But... how...."

"You really don't know all the things Eroica is capable of, do you?" Klaus commented, his tone detached. "You had no idea that he can erase things from people's memories?"

Lawrence's eyes bulged. "Wait, you mean...."

The other two looked at him, one smug, the other radiant.

"...I could have ordered Eroica to fix it myself?"

Klaus smiled as he had the day before at Lawrence's mansion, and this time the English agent recognized the smile for what it was. "Yes. You could."

Lawrence sputtered for a moment before declaring, "Iron Klaus, I'm surprised at you! That was not cricket!"

"Tricking you into returning something you stole from me?" Klaus shrugged. "I wouldn't know; football's my game." He tucked the bottle securely under his arm. "Eroica, put on something more suitable. We're going home."

The genie, incredibly enough, looked even more delighted than before. "You mean I do not have to travel in the bottle?"

Klaus shot Lawrence a brief scowl. "I'm never forcing you to get in that thing again."

"You are the most wonderful master in the world!"

Klaus stepped swiftly out of range of another crushing embrace. "Then show your gratitude by putting on a suit. I have to be back at the office before the workday's over."

Eroica folded his arms and bobbed his head, and the next thing the Major knew they were in his bedroom at Schloss Eberbach. Even though he knew the genie could do this, he couldn't help looking around in startlement. Eroica, he noticed, was now wearing a perfectly tailored light grey suit, even though there was no more reason for him to be dressed for public consumption.

This time Eroica didn't try to grab him, just his hand. "You rescued me! Oh, Master, let me reward you! Do you want a diamond mine? A fleet of ships? An antique Mercedes? Just say the word!"

"I don't want anything." Klaus pulled his hand away. "Except to be good at my job. And nobody can do that for me."

"Then why did you rescue me? You almost never let me do anything for you that any mortal could not do!"

"Lawrence did, and you didn't seem to like being his genie. If you had, I would have let him keep you."

"Master! You took me away from him to make me happy?"

"I couldn't leave you there, locked up in your bottle all day and magicking your fingers to the bone. Now, I'm going to go lock your bottle in the family vault so that idiot can't steal it again, and then I'm going to work. Will you try not to get me in trouble for the rest of the day? Not show up at any embarrassing moments bearing unexplainable gifts or distracting me when I'm trying to shoot people?"

The genie began to protest, but stopped himself. "I will do whatever you wish, Master," he said with an approximation of meekness.

"Good. I'll see you tonight." He walked out the door, leaving his genie alone.

Eroica vanished and rematerialized on the terrace, where he could lounge on the divan he conjured, feel the soft breeze and gaze at the gently rolling mountains of Germany. After days of being literally bottled up, it was a bit of heaven.

It was just as well his master hadn't wanted any reward at the moment. Eroica needed a rest.

Klaus had scarcely had time to put his briefcase on his desk when he received word from the Chief: a matter in Berlin required his immediate presence. He departed at once, relieved that he could delay dealing with his genie's effusions of gratitude at least one day. He fully expected that by the time he returned, Schloss Eberbach would be transformed into a palace of ridiculous luxury which he would have to yell at his genie to take away. He also gloomily predicted a ten-course banquet, and who knew what else.

As he spent the afternoon and evening running around Berlin, tracking down contacts and meeting with informants, he also felt guiltily glad that Lawrence had exhausted Eroica so much. Not a thing happened that day to make him suspect that an unhelpfully helpful genie was on his trail.

By the time he had finished the day's business, it was too late and he too tired to make the trip back home. He checked into the first hotel with a vacancy that he found, a cheap and dismal place right next to a store where he was able to buy some junk food. Of course he rarely inflicted junk food on himself, but he hadn't had time for dinner and it would take the edge off his appetite so that he could get to sleep.

Once inside his room, he dropped the bag of sodium, carbohydrates and preservatives on the small table and sank into the rickety chair. The room was dingy, the mattress worn and the blankets threadbare, but he had spent enough nights in worse places to appreciate simply having a roof and a locked door.

He had bent to take off his shoes - his feet were killing him - when Eroica materialized before him.

"Not now, Eroica, I'm tired."

Eroica said nothing, only knelt to remove his shoes. Too tired to argue, Klaus leaned back in the chair. Normally he resisted this little service that the genie liked to perform, though he gathered it had been a widespread custom in Eroica's long-ago youth. Tonight he let Eroica take off his shoes and massage his feet.

The genie looked around the dreary room, his fingers still working on Klaus's feet. "This place cannot be restful," he decreed. Before Klaus could even brace himself, the sagging bed became a firm mattress with clean, fragrant sheets.

Well, that meant that at least his back wouldn't ache tomorrow. Klaus made no objection.

Next, Eroica regarded the walls with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. "Why is it always beige?" He bobbed his head and the dingy walls were suddenly oak-paneled, and the chair Klaus was sitting in became sturdy and well-upholstered.

Eroica rose and Klaus flexed his feet, which felt better already. The genie sauntered to the table and gave the junk food a withering look. "Dinner, Master?"

Klaus shrugged. "What do you expect at this hour?"

"Oh, perhaps some roasted fish, and fried potatoes, and beer." The genie bobbed his head, and it all appeared on the table.

Once more, the Major could find no objection to this. The smell alone invigorated him. "Thank you," he said, moving the chair closer to the table. As he began, it occurred to him that it was the first time he had ever actually thanked Eroica for anything. Most of the time, he was trying to make the genie take back his gifts.

Eroica seated himself cross-legged on the bed, a happy smile on his face as he watched Klaus eat.

"I did not interfere with your work today, Master," the genie told him with a proud smile.

The Major looked at him thoughtfully. It was a long moment before he spoke. "Today has been... uneventful. No spontaneously appearing evidence, no mysterious informants." He popped the last bite of fish into his mouth. "And no ridiculous magical interruptions."

Eroica's smile had disappeared. He watched his master, silent.

"I'm not going to lock you in a safe the way Lawrence did!" the Major announced fiercely.

The genie could only look at him with enormous eyes.

Klaus's shoulders slumped. "I would never."

The silence stretched before Eroica spoke quietly. "I did not expect you to take me back from Lawrence. I thought you would be glad to be rid of me."

The Major snorted. "Eroica, if I wanted to be rid of you, your bottle would be long gone."

Eroica bit his lip. "Did you miss me, Master?"

"It was quiet without you around." The words were not especially complimentary, but his tone did not imply that it had been a good kind of quiet. Eroica smiled.

"I missed you terribly, Master. Every minute."

The Major was quiet as he ate the last of the potatoes. "You didn't like belonging to Lawrence," he began.

"No, Master."

"You didn't... get infatuated with him."

"Of course not, Master! I am in love with you!"

Another long pause while the Major occupied himself with finishing his beer. "I always thought that, ehm... feeling attached to whoever had the bottle, was just part of being a genie."

It took a moment for Eroica to understand. "You mean you thought I would be in love with any man who happened to be my master?"

"Yes."

"And that it had nothing to do with you?"

"Yes."

Eroica smiled at him radiantly. "I have never fallen in love with any of my masters. Only you."

The Major looked back at his now-empty plate, but his flush was just slightly visible.

"Do you mean to say that for all of these years, you have not availed yourself of a beautiful and willing odalisque-in-a-bottle because you were too honorable to take advantage of a geas?"

"How could I?"

"But you did want me? All along?"

Klaus's flush deepened. "I am not made of actual iron."

Eroica bobbed his head, and an instant later the table had vanished and Eroica was standing in its place. Before Klaus could do more than give a start, the genie was in his lap, arms twining around his neck, lips pressed against his.

Klaus returned the kiss wholeheartedly, the first time ever that he hadn't resisted Eroica's unceasing overtures. He tangled the fingers of one hand in the genie's mane of yellow curls and with the other arm held him close. For a long time their lips moved together. When they parted, Klaus reluctantly moved back.

"You are certain this is not some genie thing?" he demanded. At Eroica's grin, he went on insistently, "Don't think you can - If you lie to me about this..."

Eroica's eyes sparkled. "Is that an order, Master?"

"Yes! Don't touch me if you - unless you want to! I forbid it!"

"Your wish is my command, Master!"

And late into the night, it was.

 

Eroica